When you think of playing a board game, someone sitting alone at a table may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The social aspect of board games is obviously important, but a number of the best board games have satisfying puzzles to work out even if you can’t get anyone to join you. The array of options for games you can play solo has expanded rapidly over the last few years, but these five titles are a great place to start — and they’re all available online or at your friendly local game store.
Whether you’re looking for a sprawling adventure or a brisk afternoon think, there’s something in Polygon’s guide to the best solo board games for you.
Best solo board games
This cozy game is all kinds of cute — but don’t let its exterior fool you. In Calico, you are fashioning a quilt in hopes that cuddly kitties will snuggle up and take a nap on it. Much like with our real-life feline friends, Calico’s cuddliness is a mask that veils its unpredictable, beastly nature. Hidden behind the delightfully colorful artwork and components is a tight puzzle that requires a surprising — though not overwhelming — amount of mental deftness. You must play your patch tiles paying attention to patterns, colors, and design goals to maximize your score.
Despite its bite, Calico is easy to learn and quick to play, and it gives a generous nod to solo players in the form of a series of challenges and premade scenarios.
Tiny Towns similar vein to Calico, with a sweet theme covering up a tricky spatial puzzler. This game has you constructing the titular village by placing resources on a grid in particular shapes to create buildings with unique scoring conditions. As your grid gets smaller, your options decrease and everything gets a bit more challenging.
In the solo version of this game, a deck of cards is what determines what resources you are able to place. No opponents are required to make this game enjoyable, and it’s breezy to get it set up and played.
Lost Ruins of Arnak
If cute animals and spatial puzzles aren’t what you’re looking for, you might find a trek in the jungle more exciting. Lost Ruins of Arnak is a beautiful board game that combines deckbuilding (common in games like Magic: The Gathering, of course, but also in more competitive games like Clank!) with worker placement (a common mechanic that requires you to place pawns strategically on the board to complete tasks). Explore, research, and manage your fear to come out on top while exploring Arnak.
The solo version of this game features an automated opponent driven by a deck of cards. It’s easy to manage, which makes it a great choice for a game to play by yourself. The designers also recently released a solo campaign that stretches out over several games and provides some twists and turns to the normal rules. You can play this campaign mode through a companion web app.
Spirit Island is a brilliant game, though it’s much heavier and more complicated than either of the previous recommendations. You take on the role of a spirit and are charged with protecting your island from invading colonists. Each spirit has powers and a hand of cards that are unique to it and contribute to its theme and character.
When playing with other people, Spirit Island is a co-op game, so you’re losing allies rather than opponents when you play solo. You get the most out of this best solo board game experience when you play two spirits at once so you can see how they interact, which means that Spirit Island is a little harder to get to the table than others. However, players get out of it what they put into it, and if you give Spirit Island your time, there’s a stellar return on investment.
Gloomhaven is a hefty commitment of time, money, and even space, but there’s a reason it’s popular. This epic adventure weaves together an intricate campaign full of decisions, unlockable characters, upgrade trees, secrets, and stories. At the core of it all is an engaging card game that puts you in classic dungeon crawling scenarios with punchier mechanics than your usual dice chucker. There’s a lot to love here if you have a place in your home and your schedule to dedicate to exploring the world of Gloomhaven.
The satisfying puzzle of the card-based combat system means you can enjoy it all by yourself and still have a great time. There is also a set of solo scenarios for each character to hone your skills with your favorite heroes.